From The FAA: Paint a Picture

A look at the FAA's internal quality audit system

Flying in the cockpit of a 737 at 34,000 feet affords one a humbling view; a picture the greatest artist in the world could never do justice to in any painting. It’s ironic because as I oversee the Earth below, I am reminded that as a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector it is my job to oversee the airworthiness side of the aviation industry, at least the part that exists in the New England (Eastern) Region. But who keeps a close watch over the Flight Standards division of the FAA? The answer is simple: I do.

Alright, I just admitted to working for the FAA and being responsible for watching over Flight Standards; hmm, that sounds contradictory and slightly nepotistic. Allow me to paint a picture for you (or in my case, paint-by-number) that better elaborates.

Larger operators like your Part 121 airlines or sizable Part 135 or 145 certificates, self-evaluate as part of their normal order of business. Quality control is built into the operator’s maintenance program to allow the operator to self-police itself; to discover problems before the customer or the FAA can. Often times, when the operator follows the quality control program as laid out, the operator makes the fix and improves the way a product or service is delivered.

Flight Standards evaluation

It’s the same with the Flight Standards division of the FAA; we, too, have a quality control mechanism in place that allows us to self-evaluate, determine fixes, and apply improvements, then assure the enhancements work. The Flight Standards Evaluation Program (FSEP) is the audit system Flight Standards uses to approach the individual offices with an unbiased yet experienced view into how the Administration’s policies are being employed. It is through this impartial snapshot taken that Flight Standards can stand back to see what is really going on within.

Based on ICAO

The FSEP was created to be and is currently an International Organization for Standardization (ISO, and no, the acronym shouldn’t be IOS) 9001:2008 internal audit process; it is based on the requirements dictated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a consortium of countries whose representatives speak for the aviation safety disciplines of the region they act for. ICAO has regional offices in Asia, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Central America; it represents the joint standards of governments across the seven continents with the mission to make aviation safety a worldwide requisite built upon the needs and direction provided by its members. Those who believe that ICAO was borne for a global economy would be incorrect; ICAO is the latest stage of evolution from the Chicago Convention of 1944, which was organized in the waning days of World War II.

The FSEP audit evolved as a result of a 1999 recommendation from ICAO, that the FAA (and other complying organizations) “should introduce a quality audit system that has terms of reference to audit all regional offices and their suboffices.” It points out that the “auditors should be independent of the region audited and focused on the implementation and consistent application” of the regulations, which I will clarify later. Lastly, “the reports and findings should be analyzed by a central body;” this concept, again, will be clarified later in this article.

Quality audit system

The quality audit system is the responsibility of the AFS-040 division, the central body within the Flight Standards office of the FAA. The Flight Standards Director charges them to oversee the auditing of the Flight Standards’ offices, which include: Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), Certificate Management Office (CMO), Aircraft Evaluation Group (AEG), International Field Office (IFO), Regional Office (RO), and even Headquarters. Each separate office is audited on a three-year schedule, meaning that each office within Flight Standards’ jurisdiction, that includes offices in Europe and Asia, receives an in-depth audit every three years to assure the Director that Flight Standards is following the procedures, policies, and guidance of Flight Standards. Each office has been audited at least twice.

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